Struggling Nationals Lose in 11

Brian Schneider scores after catcher Ronny Paulino and Pittsburgh stumbled to a wild pitch and two throwing errors on the same play in the second inning.
Brian Schneider scores after catcher Ronny Paulino and Pittsburgh stumbled to a wild pitch and two throwing errors on the same play in the second inning. (By Nick Wass -- Associated Press)
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 7, 2006

Washington Nationals Manager Frank Robinson was troubled by his starting pitcher's faulty performance, which allowed lowly Pittsburgh back into the game. He was disappointed with the high fastball thrown by the last of his five relievers, which Jason Bay smashed over the left field fence to give the Pirates a 5-4 victory in 11 innings last night at RFK Stadium.

But after 3 hours 51 minutes of uninspiring and sometime bizarre baseball before 29,953 spectators, Robinson was most irritated by the sudden disappearance of his club's offense against a ragged pitching staff. The Nationals scored twice in each of the first two innings, then managed just five singles the rest of the cool evening.

"The offense shuts down after the second inning," Robinson grumbled. "The same guy we were knocking around the first two innings and all of a sudden we can't do anything with him."

With the Nationals sputtering, the Pirates (9-23) needed only four innings against Ramon Ortiz to tie it and then won it in on Bay's two-out blast off Felix Rodriguez. Pittsburgh, off to its worst start in 49 years, stopped a three-game losing streak and won on the road for only the third time in 19 tries.

The Nationals (10-21) put two runners on base with two outs in their half of the 11th, but Mike Gonzalez struck out pinch hitter Marlon Byrd.

"It just wasn't happening," said center fielder Ryan Church, who went 0 for 3 in his return to the lineup after sitting out with an illness. "We had some opportunities and we just couldn't get that big hit. They took advantage and battled back and caught us."

A night after Zach Day allowed only four hits and no runs in seven innings to highlight a 6-0 victory in the series opener, the Nationals hoped Ortiz could offer his second consecutive quality start. He began the week by giving up a run in six innings in a loss to the Mets and, in doing so, lowered his ERA to below 6.00 for the first time this season.

Last night Alfonso Soriano provided him with a 2-0 lead in the first with a two-run homer, his ninth, and after the Pirates scored once an inning later, the Nationals added two more in the second on a comedic defensive display by Pittsburgh.

Ortiz couldn't hold the lead, barely making it through five innings after allowing six hits, five walks, hitting a batter, throwing a wild pitch and getting called for a balk.

"We need better performances from our starting pitchers," Robinson said. "You can't have this hit-and-miss. Our bullpen is not built to do that. I had to do everything I could to get [Ortiz] through five innings. If I hadn't done that, we would've been out of pitchers by the seventh inning."

Said Ortiz: "I'm not happy about my game. I didn't throw the ball well. I don't know what happened. It's unbelievable the way things are going right now."

The way the Nationals scored their runs in the second inning was pretty unbelievable too.

With runners on first and third, Pittsburgh starter Victor Santos struck out Ortiz on a pitch in the dirt. The ball skipped past catcher Ronny Paulino, but didn't roll very far. The runner on first, Royce Clayton, took off. Paulino's throw sailed into center field. Brian Schneider broke from third and narrowly beat Nate McLouth's throw. The ball flew to the backstop, allowing Clayton to go to third.

To summarize: a strikeout, a wild pitch, two throwing errors and a run -- on the same play.

Jose Vidro's sacrifice fly knocked in Clayton to make it 4-1.

The Pirates, who had gone 22 innings without scoring until Bay came home on Ryan Doumit's double in the second, scored twice in the third. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman's error allowed one run to score and Doumit's second double to right brought in another.

An inning later, a single, a balk, a sacrifice and McLouth's double -- the second of his three hits following an 0-for-26 slump -- tied the game.

Ortiz, winless in his last 10 starts, left after throwing 108 pitches. The bullpen did its job over the next five innings, limiting the Pirates to four hits, but Rodriguez made a mistake against Bay, who hit his sixth homer of the year.

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